It’s all thanks to David Letterman. That’s something I never thought I’d say, but North Carolina/Maryland synthpop band Future Islands had always eluded me, that was until the 4th of March, when they made their network television debut by capping off an episode of ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’, performing their newest album’s lead single ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. One thing that was instantly notable was that for the first time in recent memory, Letterman appeared to be genuinely blown away by his musical guests, giddily exclaiming “How about that? I’ll take all of that you got! Future Islands! That was wonderful!” You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed with him. Their performance was absolutely stunning, with frontman Samuel T. Herring swinging his velvet hips (in what I suspect will become an iconic dance move) and delivering his idiosyncratically husky yet oddly seductive vocals. That was the very moment that the band finally caught my attention.
All of which brings us swiftly along to their latest album and 4AD debut Singles, which is a rather appropriate title as almost every song on here could be a single. The standout of course is the aforementioned ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. It’s a perfect pop song, with its combination of great songwriting, superb instrumentation, an earworm of a chorus and magnificent vocals. Furthermore, Herring’s vocals are formidable driving force throughout the album; they help to elevate some songs to new heights, such as ‘Doves’ – a good song that becomes great once Herring unleashes his rasp and when he truly lets rip on the terrific Beach House-esque penultimate track ‘Fall from Grace’, you can’t but think that he would be a great death metal frontman.
All of the songs follow the same verse-chorus structure and additionally, they are all relatively simple, but this is a formula that works rather well in the context of the album. The instrumentation (undulating synths, chugging bass and uptempo drums) remains the same for all but one track: ‘Light House’, which opens with an unexpected burst of acoustic guitar. Nonetheless, despite the simplicity of the songs, the musicianship on display here is of an impressive quality. ‘A Song for Our Grandfathers’ is one of the few tracks where the instrumentation is every bit as good as Herring’s vocals – the song wouldn’t sound out of place in one of John Hughes’ 80s teen movies. In fact, neither would any of the tracks; the only thing preventing them from sounding wholly retro are Herring’s vocals which feel like something new in this genre.
This is an excellent album that rattles along at a brisk pace, free of any significant bum notes, lingers in the memory and throbs with an unbreakable sense of sincerity.
Words: Matthew Jones